header with links mouse out bio extras orders

Lifetime Reading List
(in chronological order)

A Prefatory Note

I suspect the casual reader might prefer to begin with either the 19th or 20th century, but I have provided what I consider to be a fairly thorough list of significant literary works from antiquity on. Even a little reading in the Classics (or anything with a pub date prior to 1800) is better than none.

This list, broken into seven parts, represents a lifetime’s reading, around 3,000 books so don’t be dismayed—unless you’re over fifty and haven’t yet started! This is not something that an enthusiastic reader can get through in less than fifty to sixty years.

N.B. From Part 5 on (but particularly for Parts 6 and 7), this list favors novels of suspense, although I have tried to include a sampling of so-called serious literary fiction and a representative selection of works in other forms of popular fiction, e.g., horror, sci-fi, romance, fantasy, teen lit., and so forth. Still, the list is not balanced from that point on.

Finally, I've made my list available as either a PDF file (click to open in a new window) or a WordPerfect file (right click to download):

All files open in a new window

Part Number
PDF file
WordPerfect X5
1 - Antiquity
2 - Middle Ages, Renaissance & 17th Century
3 -1700-1899
4 - 1900-1960
5 - 1961-1975
6 - 1976-2000
7 - 2001-2009

If you would like commentary on some of the selections in the list, please consult the following works, listed alphabetically:

• Harold Bloom, The Western Canon. The Books and School of the Ages (the list in the appendix is useful).

• Peter Boxall and Peter Ackroyd, eds., 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (but you'll be disappointed by what they leave out. They seem to favor the British over the Americans and especially neglect Western writers. No Wallace Stegner! no Ken Kesey! no Edward Abbey!)

• Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major, The New Lifetime Reading Plan: The Classical Guide to World Literature (revised and expanded).

• Lizzie Skurnick, Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading (selections made by female readers)

• Charles Van Doren, The Joy of Reading: A Passionate Guide to 189 of the World's Best Authors and Their Works (and his passion is entertaining!)

• Philip Ward, Lifetime's Reading: 500 Great Books to Be Enjoyed over 50 Years (unseen by me so I can’t speak to its quality, but the title suggests a rather negative assessment–500 books for 600 months! Less than a book a month. That imagined reader is a piker!)

• Susan Wise-Bauer, The Well-Educated Mind.

Have fun reading! Remember: following a list like this shouldn’t be turned into work! If you start and don't care for a book after 20 or so pages, toss it and move on . . .

Ron Terpening
Fiction–More Real Than Reality! ™